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Federal education building to be named for LBJ

WASHINGTON—Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Democratic president from Texas whose only official memorial in Washington is a hard-to-find grove on an island in the Potomac River near the Pentagon, soon will have more suitable recognition—the Department of Education headquarters.

By voice vote, the House of Representatives agreed Tuesday to name the Education Department building near the Capitol the Lyndon Baines Johnson Federal Building. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, has introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

The lack of a prominent Washington memorial to the 36th president has galled Democrats, especially Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, for years. But Green couldn't get past former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, whose conservative views couldn't stomach Johnson's "big government" philosophy. DeLay, said Green, told him, "Not on my watch."

"Of course a conservative like Tom DeLay would block naming anything after the guy who opened the door for the federal government to destroy our education system," said DeLay spokesperson Shannon Flaherty. "The only bill Mr. DeLay would have brought to the floor wouldn't rename the Department of Education—it would de-federalize it."

But the new Democratic majority looks at things differently. Call it "No Democrat left behind."

"LBJ passed away over 30 years ago, but to this day has no federal buildings bearing his name in the Capitol area," Green said. President Reagan is honored with the International Trade Center building, and former President George H.W. Bush has the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters named for him.

Some Democrats complain that Johnson's only tribute in Washington is a rock. Indeed, the prominent feature of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac River is a pink granite monolith from the Texas Hill Country, according to Dana Dierkes, a public relations specialist with the National Park Service's George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Johnson has numerous sites honoring him in Texas, including NASA's Johnson Space Center, a state historical park near his hometown of Stonewall and a presidential library and museum at the University of Texas in Austin.

Green, joined by most Texas Democrats and Republicans, led the effort on the House floor to recognize Johnson, a former schoolteacher who was a member of the House and Senate and served as Senate majority leader, vice president and president.

"The Vietnam War soured President Johnson's legacy," Green said in an interview. "We still have to recognize his domestic legacy."

Johnson signed more than 60 education bills into law, including the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which established Head Start; the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965; and the Higher Education Act of 1965.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, cited Johnson's support for civil rights and education.

"He made his name as the first education president," Clyburn said. "He was the first president to recognize the strong federal investment in education."

Lawmakers hope to move quickly to pass the bill because former first lady Lady Bird Johnson, 94, is ailing.

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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